Micromammal taphonomy of el-Wad Terrace, Mount Carmel, Israel: Distinguishing cultural from natural depositional agents in the Late Natufian

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A taphonomic analysis of micromammal remains from the Late Natufian deposits of el-Wad Terrace, Mount Carmel, Israel, was conducted in order to test the long-standing premise of owl deposition as the primary accumulating agent. The inferred taphonomic sequence was modeled within an actualistic (recent) comparative framework incorporating a locally derived barn owl pellet collection and an off-site control assemblage of micromammal remains from the cliff overhanging the terrace. The sequence was reconstructed based on multiple types of recorded taphonomic data, comprising skeletal modifications (breakage, digestion, weathering, gnawing, and charring) and age structure. Evidence for post-depositional processes including fluvial transport, trampling, and weathering was isolated and consequently the typical owl imprints were traced through the two actualistic and the archaeological assemblages. Based on the extent of breakage and patterning in skeletal element frequencies it was also possible to scale the preservation potential of primary data in el-Wad Terrace as a discrete site type, intermediate between true cave and open-air depositional environments. Verifying the role of owls as principal agents of accumulation of the el-Wad Terrace micromammal remains enabled the detection of two minor superimposed cultural patterns: consumption of mole rats (Spalax sp.) by the Natufians and commensalism of mice (Mus spp.).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research based on L.W.'s Masters Thesis (Department of Archaeology, University of Haifa: Guided by M.W.-E. and T.D.) was supported by Irene Levi Sala CARE Archaeological Foundation. L.W. also received a grant from the Hecht Foundation in support of his M.A. study and additional support was received from the University Research Fund, Tel Aviv University. The analysis of finds from the el-Wad Terrace excavations is supported by a grant from The Israel Science Foundation (grant no. 913/01). We thank Igor Gavrilov of the Zoological Museum at Tel Aviv University for his help in preparing a comparative rodent collection. Scanning electron microscopy was conducted at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Rehovot Faculty of Agriculture. The late Professor Eitan Tchernov of the Department of Ecology, Systematics, and Evolution at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and his staff made their comparative collection available to us. We thank Guy Bar-Oz, Daniel Simberloff, and Kathleen Muldoon for reviewing earlier versions of this manuscript. We also thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable suggestions. However, full responsibility for the final submitted version of the manuscript rests with us.


  • Actualistic research
  • Commensalism
  • Israel
  • Micromammals
  • Natufian
  • Owl deposition
  • Small game
  • Taphonomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


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